It's been exactly 20 years since eight-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter began paying pro ball. Now, a new group of players has just been drafted into the NBA, and Carter offered them some really solid financial advice. In fact, it's so good, pretty much everyone should follow it.
In an interview with USA Today, Carter basically had two messages for the new rookie players. The first: Enjoy your youthful bodies while you've got them. Carter plays for the Sacramento Kings but he began his career with the Toronto Raptors and earned the nickname Air Canada for his ability to fly through the air and perform slam dunks. Now that he's in his 40s, he can still jump high, he says, but the landings are increasingly painful.
His second piece of advice may be even more important: Put yourself on an allowance. The new draftees will see their lives change in every conceivable way, and one of those changes is that they'll sign contracts for sums that most of them could never have imagined. That could be a recipe for a lot of financial chaos, rapid spending, and regret. Or it could set them up for a lifetime of financial security. It all depends on how they handle their newfound wealth.
Carter is lucky in that his mother majored in business and he has had sound financial advice from the start. He's had the same accountant throughout his pro career. "There's tough lessons to learn in the beginning and he's like, 'Enjoy your life but being frugal is not a bad thing,'" Carter recalls.
He realizes this advice might sound nutty to the NBA rookies, all of whom are signing contracts that promise at least $1 million and very likely more. "But I think particularly in your first contract, you want to make sure you're above water to even make it to your second contract where you can live comfortably," he explained. "A lot of these guys who are going to get drafted today are going to live comfortably, obviously, but you still need to save it."
That's especially true, he notes, because getting signed to a pro team doesn't come with any assurances for the future. "You've just kind of opened the door of the opportunity to now try to stay in the NBA."
You should think this way too.
If you're a successful entrepreneur or have a rapidly rising career and you're making really good money, it's very easy--and tempting--to assume that your earnings will continue to increase throughout your working life. Or at least, that they'll never be less than what they are today. But in fact, careers, companies, and even industries can always take a turn downward, and we should all be prepared for the day when our earnings decline or maybe even stop for a while.
It's especially important to start thinking about this right now, at a time when the job market has never been hotter, when the economy continues to be strong, when interest rates are still low, and when the financial markets are humming. I'm not saying that all of this might change. I'm saying that it will change--the only thing we don't know is how soon.
Chances are, the way you plan (or fail to plan) for your financial future won't affect just you. You may have family members depending on your income right now. Even if you don't, you might in a few years. Your parents could begin needing your help, or a new child or children could come along. If you're single, that could change in the future well.
For all these reasons, it's important to bring discipline to your finances no matter how high your income. Here's how to get started (if you're doing all these things already you're well ahead of most everyone else).
1. Get a handle on how much you spend every month.
There are many online budgeting or financial tools that can be linked to your bank and credit or debit card accounts. They can automatically track and categorize all your spending, so that you can see how your expenses compare with your income and if there are any ways you should cut back.
2. Pay down your debt.
If you have debt, especially credit card debt, pay it off as quickly as you can. Consider using the "avalanche" method: Figure out which debt has the highest interest rate and devote as much cash as you can to paying that one off while making minimum payments on all the rest. Once it's paid off, pick the debt with the next highest interest rate and repeat the process, until all accounts are paid off. Once you've gotten yourself out of debt, make sure not to create new debt. Follow your budget and set aside cash for emergency expenses to keep you from running up debt all over again.
There are only a few exceptions. Taking on a mortgage--that you can afford without strain--can be a good idea if you're making a good real estate investment. Borrowing to start or expand your business, if you've done the math and know you are making a wise bet, can make sense. So can educational debt, if it helps you or your child earn more in the future.
3. Save your raises.
In an ideal world, you should already be setting aside a portion of every paycheck toward savings. But what if you just can't afford to? Next time you get a raise, take the difference between your old paycheck and your new one and put that into savings. Make it automatic by diverting that part of your paycheck to your 401(k), or setting up an automatic transfer with your bank. You won't miss the extra money because you never had it in the past.
It's easy--way too easy--to get sucked into thinking that because you work very hard and are making good money, you shouldn't have to skimp on anything, that you deserve and can afford anything you really want. I've made the mistake of thinking that way myself. Yes, you do deserve and can afford to have a comfortable life. But you also can afford to plan for a future when you may have to take care of yourself and your loved ones without today's income. You and they deserve that still more--even if you're making millions as an NBA star.